Not only is Edmonton one of National Geographic’s top summer trips for 2015, but it also turns out to be the place to be if you’re an aspiring filmmaker. At least, it certainly is according to Shreela Chakrabartty, the director half of the Shreela & Kash filmmaking duo. Chakrabartty released her first feature-length film, Rock Paper Dice Enter, in 2014, when it premiered in India and became the first film from Edmonton to be released commercially. She attributes a lot of her success to her hometown and her experiences surrounding it.
“Edmonton is a real people city. It has great communities [and] super audiences. The Edmonton International Film Festival has always been known for having the friendliest and nicest audiences ever. “The opportunities are there to make films. Not necessarily to get on big projects, but this is a great place just to dive right in and do it, rather than wait for graduation. She adds, “instead of having to climb the ladder, you can springboard from being a cameraman to being a cinematographer, we can go directly to the top of the scale of excellence.”
In particular, Edmonton was where Chakrabartty met renowned filmmaker Deepa Mehta, which gave her the opportunity to work with Mehta on her Oscar-nominated film Water. Canadian filmmakers may have Mehta to thank for paving the way and ensuring that the world knows what Canadians can do.
“[I think] she was one of the first Indo-Canadian filmmakers that broke through the glass ceiling,” says Chakrabartty. “Deepa Mehta is recognized as a filmmaker – as one of the few successful filmmakers in Canada [who actually lives in Canada – that has had success on the international stage as a commercial filmmaker.”
However, when there are so few successes to follow, there is a greater likelihood of comparisons and judgments. The important thing to recognize is that each filmmaker tells a story in his or her own way, despite differences or similarities in background and/or experiences. In Chakrabartty’s case, a shared ancestry with Mehta provided some difficulty.
“I was pigeonholed in India, where the film was released. Instantly, they were making the comparisons to Deepa Mehta and Mira Nair, and all these wonderful South Asian women filmmakers,” says Chakrabartty. “I wanted to take the position that, yes, I belong to a league of excellent South Asian women filmmakers, but that is not what defines any of us. It’s not being a South Asian woman, but actually just being good storytellers.”
Being a good storyteller means finding a way to connect to various people. Chakrabartty focuses on telling universal stories, believing films and filmmaking provide a great avenue for helping others and for bringing together a community.
“Whenever I make a movie or tell a story, my biggest satisfaction comes from the conversations that it generates afterwards and the takeaway somebody has from having that experience,” she says. “We live in such isolated bubbles nowadays; being able to go out and watch a movie when you’re with people and [have] conversations with people, it helps maintain a society.”